Drug and alcohol-dependent employees are hazardous to their workplace and a company’s bottom line. Up to 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of individual injuries are linked to alcohol consumption and alcoholism according to the United States Department of Labor. The financial cost of alcohol and drugs in the workplace is staggering. The increased absences, accidents and errors created by alcohol and drug abuse cost American businesses $81 billion and 500 million lost workdays a year.
Employees in safety-sensitive positions who operate vehicles, machines and tools are not the only ones who can create a dangerous situation with their substance abuse. Today a high percentage of employees have access to security-sensitive information which, when handled improperly, can lead to costly mistakes and leave a company with huge liabilities.
Employees who have alcoholism and drug dependency can be found in every type and size of business. An estimated 14.8 million Americans are current illicit drug users and 77% of them are employed. Research shows, however, that they tend to seek out businesses that do not have formal programs in place to deal with the problem. The “employer-of-choice” for drug users are small and medium sized companies who are also the most likely to not have a formal program in place. Just 17% of full-time employed heavy drinkers work for very large companies with more than 500 employees.
Thus, the best way to guard against the heavy cost of substance abuse among employees is to establish a strong alcohol- and drug-free workplace program. Although each company has specific needs to consider, five components are common in effective programs: A drug-free workplace policy, supervisor training, employee education, employee assistance, and drug testing.
Clearly the foundation of a drug-free workplace program needs to be a written policy addressing the issue. Core components might include the rationale behind creating the policy such as to protect the safety and well-being of employees and customers; a clear description of prohibited behaviors including the use, possession or sale of illegal drugs; and an explanation of the consequences for policy violations.
Because supervisors most closely interact with the workforce, it is imperative that they receive special training in dealing with the issue. Supervisors should not be expected to diagnose substance abuse or counsel employees but rather be trained to monitor poor employee performance, identify potential symptoms of substance abuse and know how to refer employees for help.
For a program to be effective, employees not only need to be educated on the specifics of the company’s alcohol- and drug-free workplace policy, they also should be provided general information on addiction, its impact on their personal and professional lives and locally available treatment resources.
For certain companies, drug testing might be an appropriate component to a drug free workplace program. However, the specific local, state and federal laws regarding when, where and how testing is performed must be followed. The Department of Labor recommends that legal counsel be consulted before starting a drug-testing program.
Through its Working Partners for an Alcohol- and Drug-Free Workforce program, the Department of Labor has created a multitude of resources to help American businesses effectively combat alcohol and drug abuse in the workforce. Training and educational materials, links to treatment resources and guidelines for developing a program can all be accessed at www.dol.gov/workingpartners.